The DJ was one of "my people," which classified him instantly as safe. But this time, instead of my usual aversion to familiarity, I found something sexy about our sameness. Right away we had an unspoken trust and respect—he didn't feel like a stranger for very long. Our common ground required explanation—like my mom's practice of carrying Taco Bell sauce in her purse to spice up soups on the go, or my dad's lack of interest in football.
Of course, we still had arguments—sometimes over qualities that were quintessentially Indian, like his tendency to be macho or his hyperactive work ethic. But as others with bicultural identities can attest, the benefits of being with someone like you can trump all other concerns.
Take Greek-American Marie, 31, who says it's no accident that she ended up engaged to another Greek-American, Jason, 34. "American men were too foreign, and Greeks were too Greek," she says. "I'm the hyphen between the Greek and the American. I needed someone like me."
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Marie, a clinical doctoral student of psychology, says being with Jason is a "sigh of relief," especially when it comes to how they will raise their future children. "With every generation, you lose a little bit of closeness to your culture," she says. "When I was growing up, Greek culture was everywhere. With Jason, that atmosphere can be more easily created." Like me, Marie was initially attracted to men who were culturally different from her. But eventually, she says, "I missed having that basic foundation of shared experiences, a shared way of looking at the world. Greek-ness is where my soulfulness resides."
While similar backgrounds can be reassuring, not everyone with a dual identity follows the law of like attracts like. My sister, Shaila, has never dated a fellow Indian-American. "Part of me has always been a little disappointed that I never met an Indian boy who impressed me," she says. "But the qualities I'm looking for aren't necessarily cultural: compatibility, the right outlook, and a sense of humor. I'm looking for a match and I don't want culture as a restriction."
For me, dating someone of the same ethnicity is more like a bonus than a requirement. But I can't deny that there was something innately satisfying about seeing the DJ's brown skin on mine, hearing him speak Hindi, and falling asleep listening to ghazals, or traditional love songs, together. One day early in our relationship, when we were lying in bed, he asked me seriously, "Where do you get your eyebrows threaded?" I was surprised, and also moved. Most Indian women favor this shaping technique, and I didn't have to tell him that I did, too. It was a tiny moment that said so much.
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While it's ideal to have more than one thing in common with a love interest, the pull toward someone from my own culture transcends food, language, or my mother's fantasy son-in-law. It's more about a desire to be with someone who has the history and chemistry to understand every inch of me. Having a bicultural identity is complicated enough; I'm not fully Indian, but not fully American, either. A perfect match could only be a fellow hyphen—someone who, like me, hovers in the space between two worlds.